Monday, October 22, 2012

Universal Sudios Halloween Horror Nights in Hollywood

As some of you may know, I usually use this blog as a site to review films, both in theaters and on DVD or Blu-Ray. But I’m going to post a review of my night at Universal Studio’s Halloween Horror Nights in Hollywood. I’m going to keep it short and sweet, since maybe you don’t want to read any rants or praise about an amusement park attraction. However, I have a fresh in my mind, so let’s do this. Hopefully, you have an idea or a little knowledge of the Universal Studios park because I’m not going to get too much into the everyday rides and attractions they have featured there. So if I mention some details or physical aspects of the place, I hope it doesn’t lose you.

Back in 2007, I first heard an advertisement on the radio about this event taking place over there. It mentioned that patrons will be able to walk around in the back lot and go through many haunted mazes, so I was very intrigued. However, I wasn’t able to go that year, so I waited with bated breath for a chance to visit the following year.

2008 couldn’t get there any slower and the month of October finally arrived. A buddy and myself took the trek to Universal Studios, visited for the day and waited patiently for the sun to set. The way the park set it up that year was to have everyone with a Horror Nights ticket wait in a certain area of the park while they kicked everyone else out. As soon as that happened and 7 o’clock reared it’s frightening head, the lights in the park went out and the excitement began.

The featured attractions that year were the three icons of fright: Leatherface, Jason and Freddy. It was awesome! We, first, went to the Tram ride- the Terror Tram- and enjoyed the ride in the dark until they suddenly stopped and told us we had to walk the rest of the way. From then on, we followed the directions of cloaked workers with flashlights throughout a pathway.

The highlight for me was waking in front of the Bates Motel, featuring the scene recreation from Psycho III, with the high school reunion happening after an apparent bloodbath. We kept going through this area, past the motel and up towards the Bates Manor, which was another treat for me to see this iconic building and have it only a mere twenty feet away from me. After that, we were motioned to keep going through some maze and then it was through the plane wreck set from War of the Worlds.

The rest of the night, we went through the various mazes they featured throughout the park, getting the shit scared out of us. Man, I was in heaven! It was such an awesome event! Even the little puppet show they had with Chucky yelling obscenities at everybody was great. At that moment, my buddy and I vowed to come back again the following year, and we did!

2009’s event was great as well. You could see the popularity making it grow, as the event had a little longer lines and went a tad longer for us. 2010, I decided to introduce my wife to the event and she, not being a big horror fan, was scared out of her mind. In 2011, my wife and I visited the park with two mutual friends of ours and had somewhat of a good time as well.

The one thing I had noticed over the last few years is that the park became more and more crowded every year. Of course it’s attributed to the popularity of the event, so I really can’t complain. Or can I?

In 2008, my buddy and I were able to see every single maze and take the Terror Tram twice that night, still being able to call it a night at 11 PM. 2009 was a little busier, but we were still able to see everything before 1 AM. 2010 and 2011 started really showing the signs of the event’s popularity because the whole park was packed and we were only able to see a fraction of the mazes. I follow the event’s designer, John Murdy, on Twitter and noticed he advised people to visit on Sundays because there were less crowds to deal with. So, days after my 2011 visit, I told myself that next year I’d make it a point to come to the event on a Sunday.

Yesterday, after purchasing my tickets for my wife and I about a month ago, we went to the event to enjoy the park with less crowds.

Upon arriving, the first thing I noticed as I drove up Lankershim to Universal Hollywood Drive was that there was a backup of vehicles. Then, as we drove up, heading to the parking structure, signs read that the event was sold out. As an unusual addition to this, parking attendants were motioning vehicles to park in the further parking structure signaling to me that this place was going to be packed.

Sure enough, it was.

The line for the Terror Tram was all the way up the escalators and beyond. I was stunned. Although the line moved fast, it was still a long wait for more of the same I had seen before. The walk in the back lot was a little different this year, a little shorter, and not as enjoyable. Seeing that I had already seen the Llorona and Alice Cooper mazes last year, I decided to check out the Universal Monster Remix maze, which is, more or less, the everyday monster house maze they feature daily at the park. After leaving there, I decided to search out the Silent Hill maze. Being that it was near the Jurassic Park Ride, we had to take the multiple escalators down just to get there, and saw that the maze had a 70 minute wait. We started waited through the line, up and down, in and out, waiting and waiting…I finally looked at my wife and said, “Let’s go home.” Knowing how much I love Universal Studios and how much I look forward to Halloween Horror Nights, she tried to persuade me to stay, but I couldn’t take it.

We went home and I felt no regrets about it.

A few things I wonder about this event: How many tickets are sold before it’s determined that it’s sold out? There seemed to be a shitload of people there, so how about making that number lower? Universal Studios must make a TON of money with this park everyday and it’s overpriced concessions, can’t they cut back the maximum capacity to let people have fun? I know a lot of people were raving about the place when we were there, but it seemed like most of them were drunk or high, which I’m sure enhanced their enjoyment of the place.

For me, all I’ll take back from this place is seeing so many faces looking miserable as they wait, wait, and wait through those long lines for up to 2 hours only to enjoy a 15 minute maze. Is it worth it? I think not. My wife suggested that maybe we buy front-of-the-line passes next year, but we still have to deal with the packed park and the craziness that ensues from it.

No, it’s not worth it.

My final “bit” on Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights in Hollywood?

Skip it. If you’re like me and enjoy the history of the studio’s back lot, take a day off during the week, buy yourself a VIP pass and get a great tour of the place. I love the movies over the years that have been filmed there and distributed by the studio, but I hate the gigantic crowds the place gets. For a good scare during the Halloween season, do what I’m going to do next year: find a haunted hayride and visit one of the many other parks (like Knott’s Berry Farm or Magic Mountain) to get yourself scared within some frightening mazes. Or better yet, make your own…get together with some of your neighbors and make your own fright maze. Halloween Horror Nights is overblown and over-hyped. Until they cut down the maximum amount of people that they cram in the park, I’m not coming back.